Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Media
They were rugby teammates at Bayside Secondary School and with the Belleville Bulldogs club program as well.
Madi Reid and Kaylee Hilts will also be teammates with the Trent University Excalibur women’s rugby team in Peterborough.
“I’m so excited to have someone with me that I know and that I’ve played with so we can go into it together because it is kind of nerve-wracking going into a completely new team,” Reid said.
Hilts echoed the sentiment, noting it will be “comforting” heading to Trent with her friend and high school teammate Reid.
“I was a little nervous that I was going to go and not know anyone, but knowing that I’m going to be there with someone else, it’s comforting that I can talk to her if I’m having problems with something,” Hilts remarked. “It’s great because we’re both in the same boat and we have to work from the bottom up again.”
Both started playing rugby in Grade 9 at Bayside.
“When I joined I had no experience at all, but my mom really pushed me to join a sports team or a club just to get into making new friends and get into the school life,” Reid said.
Rugby seemed like a natural choice for Reid, even if it was quite different from her past experiences in gymnastics and cheerleading. Her uncles Tim and Nick Carr both played rugby at Bayside and had told her about their great experiences and making friendships that still remain intact.
“My uncles were actually coached by Scott Dewar, who was my coach at Bayside, too, so they were pretty excited for me to get coached by the same coach as them, which is pretty cool,” Reid said.
Reid’s grateful for the support and coaching from Dewar as well as Jo Robinson.
“She was my Grade 9 science teacher. She had a huge role in me trying out for the rugby team,” Reid said. “She’s taught me so much about the game and to be a good teammate and great team leader.”
When she was younger, Reid competed as a power tumbler in gymnastics before joining Kingston Elite All Star Cheerleading when she was 10.
“I traveled all through North America for competitions,” she said. “That was the coolest experience ever. When I went into high school, that’s when I turned to rugby…two completely different sports.”
She enjoyed the team aspect, similar to cheerleading, but not as relevant in gymnastics where she competed individually. The team aspect helped her learn the sport of rugby.
“There’s probably still rules that I don’t know about when I’m on the field. There’s so many rules to rugby and it was very difficult,” Reid said, noting she still remembers an uneasy feeling during the opening kickoff of her first high school game before settling in. “It was really easy to pick up because I had such a good team to work with.”
Reid fondly recalled playing in the Barbarian Cup tournament in Fergus, which included staying in a hotel and bonding with her teammates.
Another memorable experience with Bayside included winning a Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics championship in the fall of 2019 to qualify for the OFSAA provincial tournament that spring, which was ultimately cancelled. Still, she won’t forget that COSSA game.
“That game was crazy,” Reid said. “We played in the snow. We had to shovel the field off before we played that game.”
During the pandemic with no rugby available to play, Reid has focused on working out and staying fit.
“I work closely with Jackie Jarrell and Jackie has gotten me into the best shape I’ve ever been in,” she said. “She’s like my hype-man, always believing in me and pushing me to the next level.”
Reid, who will study nursing at Trent University, is looking forward to playing for the Excalibur.
“I know this experience will give me the opportunity to work with so many high-level and well-experienced players,” she said. “I’ve met with my team virtually a few times and they seem like such a family and I’m excited to join in.”
Trent Excalibur head coach Pete Hercus said the team is thrilled Reid accepted her Trent University Green & White Athletics Scholarship.
“Madi is not only a strong, versatile and dedicated athlete, but she has excellent interpersonal and leadership skills as well,” Hercus, also a coach at Centennial Secondary School, added Reid’s skills have been consistently evident during her tenures with Bayside and the Junior Bulldogs club rugby. “She will be a great addition to our team over the next four years.”
Hilts will be studying environment sciences at Trent University and is also eager to keep playing rugby.
“Once I started playing in Grade 9, I was like ‘I definitely want to keep playing.’ I just didn’t know where I wanted to play,” she said.
In addition to traditional rugby, Hilts is also excited by the prospect of playing rugby sevens, noting “they also offer a great sevens program during the winter” at Trent.
“I’ve only played (sevens) in one small tournament, but I really get a kick out of it,” she added.
“Trent seemed like one of the best options and the coaches there seem amazing. They have really good connections with other coaches that work with Team Canada and everything so I thought it would be my best option to become better at rugby.”
Hilts played baseball growing up before switching to boxing around Grade 7 for a few years.
“Once I started rugby it took over my life,” she said.
She loves “everything” about rugby, including “the adrenaline.”
“I’m not really an adrenaline junkie, but getting that rush, there’s just so much excitement knowing you’re going to go out on the pitch playing with all these other girls,” Hilts said. “You’re just friends with them and then on the field you’re all family. It’s just a great feeling.”
Like Reid, one of Hilts’ most memorable experiences was playing in the Barbarian Cup, especially since they didn’t have the opportunity to compete at an OFSAA championship.
“None of my subs came to Barb Cup, so I was the only fullback and it was probably some of the best games I played,” she said.
Hilts enjoyed playing for coach Dewar at Bayside.
“He’s an amazing coach and he definitely pushed me to do my best,” she said.
Now she’s ready to compete at the university level and Hercus is pleased to have her join the Trent Excalibur.
“Kaylee is a very strong athlete, and she is a fast and fearless rugby player,” Hercus said. “She is a smaller athlete, but you wouldn’t believe it when you watch her play…she tackles anything. “Kaylee will be another excellent and vital addition to (the Excalibur) as we keep strengthening our team for the upcoming season and beyond.”